“Be Beautiful Be Yourself” was the message for the night at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation held on May 8.
The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Northwest Washington, D.C. was filled with supporters eager to see the 25 models with Down syndrome walk the runway escorted by congressmen and celebrities. Attendees included DeOndra Dixon, the sister of Jamie Foxx and a Down syndrome victim, and supermodel Beverly Johnson, who has become internationally known as spokesperson for Down syndrome research.
"You get to see the kids up close and personal and it raises the stigma that goes along with kids that have Down syndrome and I really feel it's making a difference,” said Johnson, whose niece has Down syndrome.
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome by raising research efforts and community awareness.
“It lifts my spirits up,” said Eddy Adbebi of Upper Marlboro, Md. “When I see other people whose children have the same condition my daughter has, that makes me to be a stronger person and makes me to believe she can be better than what she is.”
Adbebi is the mother of 11-year-old Funmi Adbebi, who participated in the fashion show. The young model was escorted down the runway by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah).
Shortly after Funmi was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, her mother i gave up her career as a training coordinator to focus all of her attention and energy on ensuring Funmi has a good life.
Down syndrome is a condition in which a child is born with an extra chromosome. Even though people with Down syndrome might have some physical and mental features in common, symptoms of Down syndrome can range from mild to severe.
According to the foundation, people with Down syndrome are “significantly predisposed to certain medical conditions including congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, and Alzheimer’s disease. There is also evidence of an increased risk of celiac disease, autism, childhood leukemia and seizures.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, the life expectancy for African Americans with Down syndrome is half that of the life expectancy of whites with Down syndrome in the United States.
Although many believe that more needs to be done as far research and awareness is concerned, many supporters at this event were excited to see the children on stage.
Before the show, 16-year-old Darian Holman of Washington, D.C. expressed to his mother, Yolanda Holman, how nervous he felt.
“This was a beautiful gala,” said Ms. Holman, especially pleased with her son. “I feel like it was such an accomplishment for him to come out on the runway in front of all of these people.”
Although the donations and awareness was the primary focus of the event, no one in the ballroom could ignore the energy of the models who didn’t let having Down syndrome victimize them that night. They were just having genuine fun.
"Just to see their faces, just to see this little face smiling at me is worth everything,” said Johnson, as the models danced on stage while singer Sheryl Crow performed. “It just fills my heart.”
The Be Beautiful Be Yourself Gala, in addition to benefitting research, gave parents and children a chance to celebrate themselves.
“You shouldn’t lose hope of any child,” encouraged Agbebi. “You don’t have to settle for less. Advocate for your child. You don’t have to focus on the diagnosis but what you can do to make the life of that child a better life.”